Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011 Major League Opening Day

First day of baseball.

It's spring.

It's baseball.

New life.


Rebirth & Renewal.


Opening Day.

Time to open something.

How'd Opening Day go?

Booya!  Faces off vs Tim Lincecum tonight.  Let's go BLUE

2012 Dodger Roster Early Preview

Well, we finally know what the 2011 Opening Day roster is going to look like.  It's time to look ahead to 2012.  A lot will depend on performance, injuries, trades, development, etc...but there is definite potential for next year's team to look a lot different.

*Click to make bigger

We see a lot of 'Free Agent's and 'Team Option's on the 2012 side of that roster.  Let's take a look and see what we think is likely to happen with each player.

C Rod Barajas
Barajas signed a 1-year deal to replace Russ Martin.  We don't know exactly how that's going to work out yet but we can (hope) be sure that at 35 years old the Dodgers don't see Barajas as the long-term answer at catcher.   However, the Dodgers don't have much at the position in the minor league system.
Chance of Returning: low to medium

C AJ Ellis
Ellis is an interesting player.  In his minor league career he's shown a very good ability to draw walks (.398 OBP, 15% BB/PA) while displaying no power (.375 SLG).  The though on Ellis as a major leaguer has always been that pitchers would just pitch him down the middle since there's little chance of him hitting an extra base hit and a single is no worse than a walk, most of the time.  In Ellis' limited major league experience, he has shown the ability to walk (10% BB/PA) against major leaguers.  Ellis has good bat control showing only a 4% whiff rate (8.5% average) in the bigs.  IF Ellis can continue to get on base he'll make an adequate backup catcher.  Since Ellis has an option left I think his...
Chance of Returning: medium

C Hector Gimenez
Full disclosure: I'd never heard of Gimenez until it appeared that he was going to make the roster.  Gimenez has appeared in 2 major league games in his career, in 2006 for the Astros.  He went 0 - 2.  In his minor league career he's never shown any exceptional ability to hit for power (.403 SLG) or to get on base (.318 OBP).  Word on the street is that he's not a good defensive catcher (hence the need to have Ellis as a backup catcher).  I'd be surprised if Gimenez finishes the season with the Dodgers, let alone begins next season with them.
Chance of Returning: very low

1B James Loney
Loney's offense has been stagnant to going-the-wrong-way since his rookie season while his salary is starting to climb.  2011 should be the decision year for Loney and the Dodgers as to his long-term future with the team.  If Loney can show improved power in 2011 he's probably worth 7-8 million in 2012.  If it's Loney as usual then his 2012 salary will likely outweigh his production and it will be time for the Dodgers to look elsewhere.  The Dodgers reportedly listened to offers for Loney this off seasons, and discussions with the Nationals  were particularly involved.  Also 2011 rising prospect Jerry Sands is a possibility for 1B in 2012.
Chance of Returning: medium

2B Ivan DeJesus
DeJesus was a highly regarded prospect until a 2009 injury sidelined him for the season.  His 2010 wasn't up to the pre-injury standards and he lost some of his luster.  He'll have a few games (ideally more) to impress new manager Don Mattingly at the beginning of 2011.  I'd like to see DeJesus hold down the starting 2B job (at least until Casey Blake returns, and maybe even after) and then stay on the team as a backup infielder in place of Aaron Miles.  DeJesus has options and should be back next season either in LA or Albuquerque.
Chance of Returning: medium

3B Juan Uribe
"World Series Hero" Juan Uribe signed a 3-year deal with LA prior to 2011 so he should be around in 2012.  What position he will play is certainly up for debate and is dependent on what happens with some other players (Blake, Furcal, Gordon, DeJesus).
Chance of Returning: very high

SS Rafael Furcal
Furcal has been a very good player in the 4 seasons he's played in LA.  Unfortunately, those 4 seasons have been spread out over 5 years.  If Furcal can stay somewhat healthy in 2011 I think LA has to pick up his 2012 option.  Dee Gordon is an interesting (polarizing.  Some think he's the bee's knees, some don't get all the buzz) prospect but unless he really shows something in 2011 I doubt LA will turn over SS to him in 2011.
Chance of Returning: high to med

IF Jamey Carroll
Carroll had a surprisingly productive 2010 filling in for Furcal, Blake, and Blake 2 De(return)Witt. Carroll put up a career high (by 1 point) on base percentage.  His 2.4 WAR almost matched his combined total for the previous 3 years (2.9).  He's going to be 37 this year, 2 years older than the first time he signed with LA but if he performs again he may be back.
Chance of Returning: low

IF Aaron Miles
Miles isn't really a good player.  His bat (as measured by wRC+) is 72% of the average major leaguer's bat.  And his defense is no real reason to have him on the roster either.  At least he isn't Juan Castro.
Chance of Returning: very low

LF Tony Gwynn jr.
Gwynn signed with LA a year after...sucking at hitting the ball with San Diego.  Gwynn should see a lot of time spelling Thames et al in LF and pinch running.  There's also a chance that Gwynn gets some at bats and does something with them or the Dodgers become totally enamored with his defense.  Gwynn is eligible for arbitration so if he performs the Dodgers can bring him back.
Chance of Returning: medium

CF Matt Kemp
Kemp looked poised for stardom following a 2009 season in which he put up 5 WAR and improved his:  walk rate, strikeout rate, on base percentage, slugging and UZR.  Unfortunately, 2010 saw him date Rihanna and everything possible about his game suffered (not to imply causation).  Unless he slips even further in 2012 'the Bison' will almost surely be back for 2012.
Chance of Returning: very high

RF Andre Eithier
Eithier, like Kemp, signed a 2-year deal prior to 2010.  Also like Kemp, Eithier exploded out of the gates in 2011 (.428 wOBA in April, .585 wOBA in May).  Then Ethier broke his pinky finger and couldn't pick up where he left off.  Either has been a steady performer though and there's no reason to think that his 2011, and then, 2012 would be any different.
Chance of Returning: very high

OF Marcus Thames
Thames signed prior to 2010 to be 1/2 of a LF platoon.  Unfortunately, he doesn't really have a platoon partner.  Being a platoon guy without a partner is much like not having a place on a team.  Not having a place on a team makes one unlikely to be on the team-especially two years in a row.  There's always a chance that the 'left' portion of the LF platoon sucks so bad the Thames gets at bats vs righties.  If that happens there's a chance he hits some home runs vs those righties.  If that happens there's a chance Colletti signs him to a 3-year $30 million deal[/hopefully sarcasm].
Chance of Returning: Low

OF Xavier Paul
Paul has put up some decent minor league numbers but shown nothing in a few major league at bats.  In the minors Paul showed a decent ability to get on base (.360 OBP), hints of doubles power (.449 SLG), some speed and a glove that might be adequate in center and good for the corners.  Paul is quite useful as a 4th or 5th outfielder.  If the Dodgers don't see Gibbons as a starting outfielder when he comes off the DL then Paul will have a chance to stick with the team through the season.  I think this is in the Dodgers' best interests.  As Paul is out of options, he cannot be sent to the minors without clearing waivers-and I think some team would claim him.
Chance of Returning: low

DL-3B Casey Blake
Blake came over at the 2008 trade deadline.  He performed will in 2008 helping LA to the NL West championship.  2009 was an excellent year for Blake as he put up 4.6 WAR.  2010 was seen as a down year for Blake but he still managed 2.8 WAR which is a typical Blake season. A decline in offense (especially against right-handed batters) have many bloggers calling for Blake's head (or at least his butt on the bench) but I'm not convinced that he's finished.  Still, what happens to Blake in 2012 depends on how he performs in 2011 as LA has a team option for the season.  Starting the season on the DL doesn't help (him).  What might help him is that the Dodgers don't have any 3B prospects ready to contribute though Juan Uribe could play third.
Chance of Returning: medium

DL-C Dioner Navarro
Navarro was acquired by LA in 2005 for Shawn Green and anointed Dodgers' catcher of the future.  Well, now it is 2011 and here's Navarro.  Navarro actually got a chance in 2005 and 2006 with LA and played pretty well.  But he got Wally Pipped by Russ Martin. Navarro had a good 2008 with the Rays and has been terrible since then.  Just 27, he has talent, and he deserves a chance.  One million bucks is a low risk gamble to see if Navarro can become useful again.
Chance of Returning: low

DL-OF Jay Gibbons
Gibbons played well in Baltimore in 2002 and again in 2005.  Baltimore is a long ways away from LA and 2005 is a long time away from 2011.  Gibbons did put up a .346 wOBA in 80 at bats for LA last year.  Then this spring he got new contacts, didn't have any depth perception, couldn't hit or catch the ball.  The chance that Gibbons has a good year this year: small.
Chance of Returning: very low

SP Clayton Kershaw
23 years old.  26 - 23 3.17 ERA, 483 innings, 497 K's.
Chance of Returning: 97.9%+the title of Jonah Keri's new book.

SP Chad Billingsley
CBills and Kershaw are about the best #2 and #1 rotation pitching you could reasonable expect your farm system to produce at the same time.  CBills has put up strong number every year since his call up in 2006.  LA needs to lock both pitchers up for the next few seasons.  EDIT:  Billingsley has agreed to a 3 year extension + an option for the 4th year.

SP Hiroki Kuroda
Kuroda signed a 3 year deal prior to the 2008 season and has pitched 3 solid seasons.  Kuroda apparently decided he would either stay in LA or return to Japan following 2010.  Obviously, he chose to stay in LA.  He'll likely face the same decision after the season.  Kuroda will be a valuable trade piece at the deadline but I'd hate to see the Dodgers send him away after he's made it clear he wants to stay in LA and signed a below market deal to come back in 2011.
Chance of Returning: medium to low

SP Ted Lilly
Lily was acquired at the 2010 deadline.  He pitched well for LA down the stretch.  After Cliff Lee...way after Cliff Lee...he was on of the top free agent starters following the season.  The Dodgers had only Kershaw and Billingsley in the rotation so they signed Lilly for 3 years.  Lilly should pitch well enough in 2k11 to avoid being released and should be back in 2012.
Chance of Returning: very high

RP Jon Broxton
Broxton was lights out until Joe Torre ruined him by allowing him to throw about 1000 pitches in 4 consecutive games in June then it all went to crap.
APR 1.18
MAY 1.83
JUNE 2.24
JULY 4.22
AUG 4.04
SEP 7.00
If Broxton returns to pitching like he did pre 2nd half of 2010, he'd be a nice trade piece for a contender. If he doesn't, the LA won't want him back on the $10 million contract he'd likely earn in arbitration.
Chance of Returning: low

RP Hong-Chih Kuo
Kuo has had eleventy surgeries on his left arm, but he still manages to dominate opposing hitters.  Kuo struck out 28 of 69 left-handed batters in 2010 while allowing 6 hits.  Next year will be Kuo's last year of arbitration and if he remains healthy in 2011 there's no reason that he shouldn't return to LA for 1 more year.

RP Matt Guerrier
Guerrier is an average reliever who's been able (lucky?) to end up with mostly above average results.  I hope that continues to because he's gonna be in LA for a while.
Chance of Returning: very high

RP Kenley Jansen
Jansen was a minor league catcher a year and a half ago.  Now he's a major league relief pitcher.  Jansen blew hitters away in both the minors (15.4 K/9) and the majors (13.7 K/9).  The walk rate (5+ BB/9) and the rawness make me temper the 2011 a bit.  I look forward to 2012 and beyond.
Chance of Returning: very high

RP Blake Hawksworth
Hawksworth was highly rated prospect in the Cardinals system but never really panned out.  He's pitched 130 major league innings of replacement level ball.  He'll be eligible for arbitration after the season so if he pitches well the Dodgers can bring him back.
Chance of Returning: low

RP Mike MacDougal
MacDougal has saved 70 big league games in his 10 seasons.  Not that saves really mean anything other than MacDougal's been around.  There was a time when MacDougal had the stuff to strike out around a batter per inning but recently he's been striking out about a batter per walk.
Chance of Returning: very low

RP Lance Cormier
Lance Cormier made the team.  He walked more than he struck out last year.  Cormier has been around and we know what he is-a completely replaceable pitcher.  He won't last the year in LA, let alone next.
Chance of Returning: very low

DL Jon Garland
Garland returns for his 2nd stint in blue.  The first was 6 starts in 2009.  Garland is more known for his durability than for his skill.  Of course, he starts 2011 on the DL.  The 2012 option becomes guaranteed with 190 innings pitched in 2011.  What was likely to vest now becomes less likely.  For the option to be picked up Garland would have to pitch well enough to out earn the contract AND the Dodgers would have to have $ to spend in 2012.  
Chance of Returning: low to medium

DL Vicente Padilla
Padilla has been around (4 teams) and has generally pitched well.  He posts decent ground ball rates and averagish K and BB rates.  His 134.1 (is that really all?) innings in LA have well exceeded his career averages.  Padilla signed a incentive laden $2 million contract to pitch for LA in 2011.  It was unsure at the time (and still is) whether he'd pitch out of the pen or in the rotation.  Padilla's return depends on his 2011 performance (of course) and other roster decisions (of course).  It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Dodgers could be in a similar situation next year.
Chance of Returning: low to medium

There's a lot of empty spaces on the right side of that roster.

Monday, March 28, 2011

2011 MLB Final Standings Predictions: NL WEST

SF Giants 87 - 75

Why is this team interesting?  After winning the World Series last year the Gnats Giants bring back pretty much the same team that they finished last season with.  So they should be a shoe-in to at least get back to the playoffs, right?  Not so fast.  This team has a lot of questions.

First, catcher Buster Posey.  Posey exploded on the scene last year posting nearly 4 WAR after his call up.  He hit for power, he hit for average, he got on base, he handled the pitching staff, so what's the problem?  No problem.  Buster Posey is awesome.  Gaze upon said awesomeness:
First base isn't so much a question as an opportunity.  The rejuvenated Aubrey Huff figures to start the season at first while Brandon Belt figures to start the season belting pitches around AAA stadiums.   Expect Belt to get the call in May or June and push Huff to the OF or go to the OF himself.

The player who figures to lose playing time upon Belt's arrival is also-rejuvenated Pat Burrell.  'The Bat' spent a miserable season plus in Tampa before getting picked up by the Giants where he turned back into the productive hitter that Philly Phans loved to loathe for most of the decade.

Also rejuvenated by the fresh bay air (or whatever) was CF Andres Torres.  Torres had 300 nondescript at bats with the Rangers and Tigers in the early part of the decade.  Once he joined the Giants he started playing at an All-Star level.

One Giant that wasn't rejuvenated last year was 3B Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval.  Sandoval had a huge 2009 but lost 60 points of batting average & on base percentage and 150 points of slugging in 2010.  Part of that was expected as Panda had a .350 BABIP in 2009, but part of it was just not hitting well.  We'll see what happens with him in 2011.

One Giant who hopes for a rejuvenation in 2011 is Miguel Tejada.  Tejada had his best seasons in the bay area with the A's but has shown definite decline with both the bat and glove in his time with the Orioles and Astros.  That the Giants' best Plan B at short is Mark DeRosa is worrisome (for Giants fans, as a Dodger fan I don't mind that situation at all).  Brandon Crawford is another outside possibility if Tejada falls completely apart.

Second baseman Freddy Sanchez and postseason-hero-Ssory-Doc round out the likely lineup members.  Both are non-stars who won't hurt you.

The rotation.  Giants fans will say that their rotation is every bit as good as the Phillies'.  They're wrong.  But it is a damn good rotation.  Tim Lincecum had a down year last year, adding a full run to his ERA and most of a run to his FIP.  He was still a 5 WAR pitcher.   Most expect a bounce back but there are some issues regarding his velocity.   Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez are quality #2 and #3 in the rotation but they don't match up well against Cliff Lee and Hamels/Oswalt.  They also have questions.  First, will Cain be able to outperform his peripherals again?  Second, will Sanchez be able to pitch out of all the jams that his walks get him in again?  Cain-maybe yes.  Sanchez-probably not.  Look for Sanchez' ERA to be closer to his 2009 4.24 than his 2010 3.07.  Madison Bumgarner might actually be better than either Cain or Sanchez.   Barry Zito continues to be the highest paid 5th starter in history.

Closer, and crazy man, Brian Wilson looks like he'll start the season on the DL, but Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez should be fine in his stead.

Colorado Rockies 86 - 76
Why is this team interesting?  Well, they've got the best player in the division in Troy Tulowitzki.  A plus fielding shortstop who posts a .350+ OBP and .500+ Slugging Percent.  Yeah.  That's something.  It'll also be interesting to see how Carlos Gonzalez follows up his breakout 2010.
2008 .278
2009 .378
2010 .416
That's the kind of progression that you want to see.  2011 should be off the charts, right?  Well, Car-Go's BABIP in 2010 was .384.  Expect that to come back to earth a little bit.  Still.  Gonzalez is a player.

Gonzalez and Tulowitzki combined for 12.4 of Colorado's 23.4 position player WAR last season.  Yeah, that's more than half.  I have them projected for similar performance again.  So, the Rockies lineup is a little top heavy.  There is upside to some of their other players though.  C Chris Ianetta is one of the biggest sources of optimism.  He's generally been productive with the bat, 99  career wRC+ and a career high wRC+ of 129 in 2008 (wRC+ relates a player's performance to the league average.  A wRC+ of 100 = league average.  Higher numbers are better than average).  But he has seen decreasing playing time since then.  Back as a starter, Ianetta could see a resurgence.  2B Jose Lopez had a miserable 2010 in Seattle.  Lopez' OBP dropped from .313 in 2008-2009 to .270 in 2010 while he Slugging dropped even more precipitously from .453 to .339.  The Rockies hope he'll rebound.  First baseman Todd Helton has a good year/bad year thing going on recently.

 He's 'due' for a good year in 2010.  The overall trend, though, is clear.   Ian Stewart, Dexter Fowler and Seth Smith are all young enough that they should be in the 'increase' portion of their careers.

To me, the most interesting thing about the Rockies is the pitching staff.  The Rocks finished 12th in the NL in ERA last year.  But ERA is a bad way to judge a pitcher's, or collection of pitchers', talents.  Despite the humidor, Coors Field still does a number on pitching.  And we can quantify that number as being about 15.  Fifteen percent more runs are scored at Coors field than in a neutral environment.  The stadium the Rockies play in make a huge difference (as does the humidor.  In the late 90's Coors field inflated run scoring by about 25 - 30%  The humidor basically halved the inflation).  Over the last 2 seasons the Rockies have been 21st in ERA but 2nd in fWAR.  They look to be very good again.

Ubaldo Jiminez caught people's attention last year as he was 15 - 1 with a 2.20 ERA going into the All Star break.   Most of us knew that he couldn't maintain that pace, but he's a very good pitcher.  He's followed by Jhoulys Chacin and Jason Hammel.  Chacin pitched very well in his first extended major league action.  He struck out over a batter per inning while getting a good number of ground balls.  The walk rate of 4/9 was high but if he can improve that (which him minor league numbers would suggest) he can be a very good pitcher in the league.  He know exactly what to expect from Jason Hammel as his last 2 seasons have been almost identical in everything except ERA.  Jorge de la Rosa was coming off back-to-back good years until injuries got him 2010 he could give the Rockies a 4th very good starter.  Aaron Cook and Felipe Paulino will battle for The 5th starter job will belong to Esmil Rogers.  Rogers threw mostly out of the pen last season and was generally effective with over 8 K's per 9 and an ok walk rate despite a poor ERA.  He made 8 starts and showed some signs of effectiveness.

The bullpen should be deep with closer Houston Street and Rafael Betancourt two very good arms up top.

Don't be at all surprised if he Rockies take the top spot in the NL West.

Los Angeles Dodgers 81 - 81
Why is this team interesting?  Because you are a lawyer and the McCourt debacle is interesting to you on multiple legal levels?

As a fan this McCOURT thing is as frustrating as any break up I've personally experienced.  The Dodgers are wasting the best years of Clayton Kershaw's, Chad Billingsley's and Matt Kemp's careers.  We should be exploiting our financial advantage in the NL West but instead we have Marcus Thames and JR Gibbons platooning in left field.

Enough bad news. Let's accentuate the positive.  The Dodgers should have an outstanding pitching staff this season.  Clayton Kershaw is one of the top starters in the National League.  He strikes out over a batter per inning and dropped a full walk off of his BB/9 last season.  And remember that Kershaw is just 23 this season-the same age that Tim Lincecum made his partial season debut for the Giants.

Chad Billingsley continues to put up 30 start, 190-200 inning sub 4.00 FIP seasons.  The strikeout rates have been declining but the overall results have been improving.  He's a steady  4.5 - 5.0 WAR a season pitcher.

Hiroki Kuroda comes back for a 4th season in LA.  His first 3 seasons have been very consistent minus a few injuries in 2009.  Look at these ERA's, FIP's and xFIP's
2008 3.73 3.59 3.93
2009 3.76 3.68 3.66
2010 3.39 3.25 3.59
We should have a good idea of what to expect out of Kuroda in 2011.

Ted Lilly signed a 3-year deal after coming over in a trade last season.  Lilly has battled through some injuries the previous 2 seasons but he should provide value this year, the next 2 are a bit worrisome.

5th starter Jon Garland will miss a bit of time at the beginning of the season.  He'll be expected to come back an put up his normal 4.50 FIP over the rest of the season.  Tim Redding or John Ely will make a few starts in his place.   Vicente Padilla, also starting on the DL, also has a chance to start, or relieve.

The bullpen will feature Jon Broxton trying to right the ship after a horrific end to 2010.  Broxton's FIP by month:
APR 1.30
MAY 1.95
JUNE 2.32
JULY 4.35
AUG 4.16
SEPT 7.16

If he struggles the Dodgers will have Hong-Chih Kuo to step in as closer.  As Kuo hasn't been a closer casual fans might not know about him and his pieced together elbow, but Kuo is an outstanding pitcher.  Kuo strikes out about 10.5 per 9 innings while walking about 3.5 with a FIP below 3.00.  Left-handed batters can forget it when they face him.  Last season 11 out of 69 lefty batters reached base against Kuo while 28 struck out.

Catcher turned reliever Kenley Jansen may get a shot as closer as well.  Jansen only has a season and a few months of experience as a pitcher but in 27 innings last year Jansen 41 batters while posting a .67 ERA and 1.82 FIP.

Moving on to the next team...


Do we?  Do I have to?  Fine, I'll discuss the lineup as well.

As good as the pitching staff is, the lineup is ... less good.

CF Matt Kemp looks to rebound from his Rihanna distracted poor 2009.  Kemp looked to be poised for stardom in 2009 but it didn't happen.  Gains that he had made in defense, base running and plate discipline disappeared.  As did his ability to hit fastballs.

Andre Either is a steady performer with the bat posting these wOBA's the last 3 years: .383, .370, .367.  He sucks struggles to hit lefties though, his wOBA against left-handed pitchers is below .300 during the same time.

Left field is a mess (as I've discussed before).  Marcus Thames, JR Gibbons (or Xavier Paul please) and Tony Gwynn jr all bring there unique talents to the fold.   Thames bashes left-handed pitching.  Jr left-handed...and was good in 2005.  Tony Gwynn jr is a plus defender but hit .204 last year.  Xavier Paul plays a little defense and should hit better than Gwynn (and maybe Gibbons, and maybe Thames as well-at least vs righties).

The best player in the infield is shortstop Rafael Furcal.  When healthy Furcal is a plus defender who gets on base, has some pop and steals bases.  Furcal's games played the last 4 seasons: 138, 36, 150, 97.

Furcal's double play partner, maybe, is Juan Uribe.  Uribe comes over from the Giants.  Uribe has some pop, .200 ISO the last 2 seasons, but doesn't get on base much, .310 OBP.  He grades as an average to above average fielder all over the infield, which might come in handy since:
A) Furcal will likely miss some time
B) Casey Blake is going to start the season on the DL.  Casey Blake cost the Dodgers catcher Carlos Santana in 2008.  He played well after the trade enticing GM Nick Coletti into signing him to a 3 year deal after the season.  Blake performed very well in the first year of the contract but had his problems last year leading many to speculate that he has out lived his usefulness as a regular.  I think this demise is a little overblown.  Regard Blake's wOBA by month in 2011
APR .353
MAY .364
JUNE .299
JULY .244
AUG .350
SEPT .283
Blake looked terrible in June and July, no question, but he got back on track in August.  September was down again, but this is my team, and I'm an optimist.

Speaking of optimism, first baseman James Loney.  Big things were expected from Loney after he hit 15 home runs and batted .331 in 96 games as a rookie.  He's never come close to that kind of power again.  Loney will be 27 this season, the age when many players fully develop their power.  The rational me knows that Loney's power won't come.  The Dodger fan me, hopes that it will.

The catching situation is saddening interesting.  Long time catcher Russell Martin is a Yankee after refusing an offer from the Dodgers.  LA boy Rod Barajas will be the every day catcher.  He hammered the ball for a .388 wOBA in 72 trips to the plate for LA last year.  His recent season wOBAs: .310, .282, .307, .324,. 306.  We know what Barajas is, and it's not that good.  Backing him up will be former Dodger Dioner Navarro, coming off a horrible year in Tampa and AAA farmhand AJ Ellis.

One last point to make about the Dodgers.  The OF defense is going to be terrible.  To quote Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, "the Dodgers have compiled the worst outfield defense in baseball, with a corner outfielder in center, a first baseman in right field, and a couple of DHs sharing time in left."
With a starting staff that gives up a lot of flyballs this is going to be significant.

San Diego Padres 76 - 86
Why is this team interesting?  The Padres led the NL West for most of 2010, finally falling 2 games short of the eventual World Series champion Giants.  They traded away their best player, and only real source of offense, Adrian Gonzalez.

But the Padres didn't rely on offense to win last season, it was the pitching that did it and the pitching staff is mostly unchanged.

The big name on the staff is Matt Latos.  Latos was phenomenal in his first full year; striking out over 1 per inning and walking less than 2.5 per game.  In all, he pitched 184 innings with an ERA of 2.92 and FIP of 3.00.  He appears to have struggled down the stretch, here are his monthly ERA's:
APR 6.20
MAY 1.54
JUNE 2.37
JULY 1.04
AUG 1.69
SEPT 5.66
Danger!  But here are his monthly FIPs
APR 5.88
MAY 2.57
JUNE 2.98
JULY 3.16
AUG 2.02
SEPT 2.65
That looks a lot less worrisome.  There is reason to worry though.  Latos has a bum right shoulder and Tim Stauffer has been named the opening day starter.  Stauffer is young but is more of a back of the rotation starter than staff ace.  If Latos can't be the staff ace this year then Clayton Richard or Aaron Harang will be.  Richard was acquired in the Peavey deal and has gone 19 - 11 3.83 ERA in 266 innings while Peavey has gone 10 - 6 4.11 ERA in 127 innings for the White Sox.  Aaron Harang was an excellent starter for the Reds between 2005 and 2007.  Then, he started giving up bucketfulls of home runs.  Look for a bounce back from Harang.  The park factor for home runs in Cincinnati is about 125.  The park factor for home runs in San Diego is about 90.  PETCO won't help his declining strikeout rate though.  Lefty Wade LeBlanc will likely be the 5th starter.   Prospects Cory Lubke and Simon Castro could figure in to the rotation as well.

It is hard to overstate just how much the Padre's offense will miss Adrian Gonzalez.  Gonzalez produced 38 batting runs above average last year.  Chris Denorfia had the second most with...6.4.  The Padres produced -24 batting runs in total.

The Padres have brough in some new players.  Brad Hawpe and, possibly, Jorge Cantu will get first crack at replacing Gonzalez.  Hawpe was a good hitter for the Rockies prior to last year.  If that doesn't work out the large and strong Kyle Blanks will be recovered from surgery.  Anthony Rizzo, acquired in the Gonzalez deal is the long-term hope at first.  The well-traveled and underrated Orlando Hudson will replace David Eckstein at second.  Cameron Maybin will be the everyday centerfielder in place of Tony Gwynn jr.  Maybin still has a lot of unrealized potential both with the bat and glove.  The aforementioned Denorfia lurks if Maybin falters again.  Jason Bartlett will be the new shortstop.  He replaces Miguel Tejada who replaced Evereth Cabrera in 2010.

Newish to the team is RF Ryan Ludwick who came over from St Louis in a trade last season.  Ludwick had a slugging percentage of about .450 with the Cards.  He didn't find PETCO to his liking tough, slugging just .120 after the trade.  That almost has to improve.

That leaves only three real holdovers from last season. Third baseman Chase Headley is the Padres' best current home-grown player.  He's not a huge bat at third but he's got a good glove and will steal some bases.  Will Venable and Nick Hundley are also home-grown players who will be expected to play a lot for the Padres.  They likely won't do too much more than just play though.  Neither projects to be much more than an average player at their position.

Finally, the relievers.  The Padres are well known for their ability to 'cobble' together a plus bullpen out of what appears to be spare parts.  They traded away 2 key members of the bullpen (Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica) to acquire Maybin.  They are still left with closer Heath Bell, Luke Gregerson, Joe Thatcher and Mike Adams.  All of the above strike out more than a batter per inning and provide for a deep and talented pen.  Chad Qualls comes to San Diego as well.  If the Padres move Bell at the deadline they will still be well equipped in the pen.

Arizona Diamondbacks 76 - 86
Why is this team interesting?  This team has a lot of young talent.  First is OF Chris Young.  Young stepped his game up last year putting up a career high OBP (.341) while cutting his strikeout rate from over 30% to under 25%.  He's joined in the OF by Justin Upton.  Upton has a career .350 OBP plus power, speed and strong defense.  He's the real deal.

On the pitching side of things, starter Daniel Hudson looked  very good last year with a K/BB ratio of 3.11.  He gives up a lot of flyballs so the .76 hr/9 is likely to increase, but he's still primed for a quality season.  He's joined by Ian Kennedy who impressed in his first full season.  Kennedy showed an ok strikeout rate (7.79) and decent walk rate.

Brandon Allen and Juan Miranda will get playing time in the outfield and at first base.  Both are first base types who gave good, but not great, power.  Allen draws a lot of walks, but strikes out a bit while Miranda makes more contact.

The DBacks also have a couple of middle infielders who swing above average bats for the position.  Kelly Johnson had a 6 WAR season in Arizona after being released by the Braves.  Johnson put up a .377 wOBA last year a year after a .306 season in Atlanta.  Steven Drew doubled his career WAR with 5.1 last season.  No guarantee that these two guys will match those numbers in 2011 but they both came back from poor years, which bodes well for Arizona.

Russ Branyan will compete with Miranda and Allen for at bats at first.  Branyan draws walks, strikes out, hits home runs, and hurts his back.

Aside from Hudson and Kennedy the DBacks' rotation is iffy.  Joe Saunders came over in the trade for Dan Haren.  GM Kevin Towers lauded Saunders' ability to 'win' after the trade.  Saunders was 9 - 17 last year and 3 - 7 in Arizona.  He doesn't get strikeouts (5.14/9 career) and isn't great at limiting walks (2.88 BB/9).  Armando Galaraga also joins the rotation.  That imperfect game is all that most people know about Galaraga.  That should say something.  His K's (5.7) and walks (3.52) are a lot like Saunders'.  He also gives up more flyballs.  Both of them are basically 2 WAR pitchers.  Barry Enright has also made the rotation.  Enright hasn't shown much ability to strike batters out (4.49 last year) and also gives up a lot of flyballs.  I don't know if he's going to be long for the rotation.

The bullpen killed the DBacks last year.  Combined they had a 5.74 ERA, 5.09 FIP, and -2.1 WAR last year; last in all 3 categories buy quite a bit.  The Cubs' 4.72 ERA was 2nd worst.  The Red Sox' 4.62 FIP was 2nd worst.  And the Mariners' -.4 WAR was 2nd worst.  Arizona has added JJ Putz, which should help.  He replaces closer Chad Qualls and his 8.37 ERA but Putz is 34 and oft-injured.

*Click to embiggen

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dodgers Roster: 40 Man Crunch

Opening Day is less than a week away and the Dodgers have some roster decisions to make.

Right now the Dodgers have 39 players on the 40 man roster since Carlos Montasterios is on the Restricted List.

It's almost certain that one of Juan Castro or Aaron Miles will break camp with the team.  So we'll give one of them the 40th spot.

Casey Blake might start on the DL, so another infielder might be necessary (the other of Castro and Miles?).  A 40-man spot would have to be cleared for him.  Though I'd rather see DeJesus up for a few weeks since he ('s better) could be optioned to AAA when Blake comes back.

John Lindsay has gotten 4 ABs this spring, so his spot doesn't look secure at all.

C/1B/OF Hector Giminez and OF Xavier Paul are both on the 40 man but are both out of options.  This means they have to be on the active roster or they have to pass through waivers to be sent to the minors.  I think the Dodgers recently added Giminez to 40-man so looks like he'll make the team.  Paul won't pass waivers so he's either on the roster or gone.

Jon Garland will start the season on the DL.  Since the Dodgers won't need a 5th starter for a few weeks I think that Giminez will take Garland's spot for now.  When the Dodgers need a 5th starter either Garland will be ready to come off the DL or the Dodgers will call up Ely (or maybe Redding, who'd need to be added to the 40-man).  If it is Ely or Garland the Dodgers will decide between cutting C/1B/OF Giminez, C Navarro or OF Gibbons.

LA will probably need another reliever as well.  Looks like Mike MacDougal has the inside track on that.  He needs to be added to the 40-man too.  If Paul is traded or released that' clear a spot for him.

In summary, I think the Dodgers will end up adding Castro, Miles and MacDougal to the 40 man.  And remove Lindsay and Paul.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 MLB Final Standings Predictions: AL WEST

Texas Rangers 89 - 73

Why is this team interesting?  The defending AL Champions come back this season with a much different team than went to the World Series last year.  Cliff Lee, Vladamir Guererro, Benji Molina and, possibly, closer Neftali Perez.   They've added some pieces.  Third baseman Adrian Beltre, 1B/C/DH Mike Napoli, and, possibly, SP Neftali Perez.

The biggest stories will be what happens with former shortstop turned former second baseman turned former third baseman turned DH/backup infielder Michael Young and if Feliz will be a starter or reliever.   Another interesting aspect to this team will be how a few of their players follow up outstanding 2010 performances.

Josh Hamilton burst upon the scene in 2007.  He was then traded from the Reds to the Rangers for Edinson Volquez.  His first year in Texas was outstanding.  He led the league in RBI and total bases.  After an injury plagued 2009 Hamilton destroyed opposing pitchers in 2010.  Hamilton had 331 total bases in 2008.  He complied those in 704 plate appearances while making 452 outs.  In 2010 Hamilton had 328 total bases but he complied those in only 571 plate appearances and 349 outs.
In chart form:
2008 704  331   452    .47    .73
2010 571  328   349    .57    .94
Hamilton isn't likely to be that good again in 2011 (he had a .390 BABIP in 2010) but he's definitely an MVP candidate again.

Starting pitchers Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson also turned in 2010s that were better than what most would have predicted.  Lewis was originally a Ranger and pitched 127 innings for them in 2003.  He went 10 - 9 but with a 7.30 ERA.  He struck out a little over 6 batters per 9 innings while walking almost 5.  A few years later he was pitching in Japan-where he thrived.  He struck out over a batter per inning while walking close to 1 a game while posting sub 3 ERA's in both 2008 and 2009.  When Lewis decided to return to the MLB to pitch, opinions were mixed.  Pitching is easier in Japan, the talent level is lower and the ball is smaller.   But Lewis continued his improvement.  He pitched over 200 innings in his return.  Striking out nearly a batter per inning and walking batters at a better than average rate.  CJ Wilson had spent the previous 4 years pitching out of the Rangers' pen.  The Rangers were desperate for starting pitchers and decided to try Wilson in the rotation.  He didn't disappoint.  He also pitched over 200 innings while getting a good amount of ground balls and keeping the ball in the yard.

How Wilson, Lewis and Hamilton back up their 2010's will go a long way to how the Rangers finish in 2011.  But, we aren't done with this team yet.

Continuing with the rotation.  Lewis and Wilson will head the rotation, but they will have help.  Tommy Hunter appears to have a rotation spot, though I think the Rangers have better options.  One of those options is Derek Holland.  Holland debuted in 2009 with mixed results.  After spending most of 2010 in the minors he finished up the season in the bigs.  He posted a K rate of nearly a batter per inning and a walk rate around the league average.

The 5th spot could be the most interesting of all.  Over the last 3 seasons Matt Harrison has spent significant time in the bigs.  He's pitched 225 innings with a 5.13 FIP and 4.71 ERA.  The poor FIP is mostly due to a low K rate of just 4.9 per 9 innings with an averagish walk rate.  He's a guy.  A potential 5th starter who is much more than a guy is Neftali Feliz.  Feliz was a top starting prospect before he joined the Rangers' pen in 2009.  He took over as closer in 2010 and had a great season.  The simple fact is that Feliz is more valuable as a starter than a reliever.  As a reliever he will pitch about 70 innings per season.  As a starter he'll pitch between 2 and 3 times as much.  His fastball is top notch and his curve is strong as well.  As a reliever he mostly relies on these two pitches.  His third pitch is a change up.  That pitch will need to improve if Feliz is to succeed in the rotation.

If Feliz joins the rotation (he has the potential to be a staff ace, something that Harrison and Hunter do not) the Rangers will need a new closer.  They have a deep and talented pen consisting of Alexi Ogando, Darren O'Day and Mark Lowe, any (or all) of whom could step in to the role.

On offense, Josh Hamilton gets the bulk of the love, but regard Nelson Cruz:
*Click to embiggen
Cruz has actually outhit Hamilton in 2 of the last three years, and wasn't THAT far off of the pace last season.  Ian Kinsler had a down year last year, but there is much reason to think that he will bounce back.  Adrian Beltre is one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball-Michael not.  The Ballpark in Arlington fits Beltre well (see Adrian's offense in Fenway last year vs his time in Seattle).  This was an excellent signing by the Rangers.  First baseman Mitch Moreland is an average player, but with Mike Napoli and Michael Young also seeing time at first the Rangers should get good production overall from the position.  Julio Borbon isn't much with the bat, but has a very good glove in CF.

Even if Hamilton, Lewis and Wilson struggle to repeat their outstanding 2010's, this is a very deep and talented team.  Clearly the best in the AL West.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 81 - 81
Why is this team interesting?  The Angels Angels of Anaheim; what a name.  Also they've gone from being the class of the division to quite mediocre pretty quickly.  Kendrys Morales (note the new old 's' at the end of his first name) broke out in 2008 then injured his foot in one of the most ridiculous ways imaginable.  If he can return to his 2008 levels, he'll be their best player.  After the Angels signed Torii Hunter to man CF.  Torii is a good player but the size of the contract has been widely criticized.  Hunter was moved off of CF last season to accommodate (his age and deceasing range) Peter Bourjous. Bourjous doesn't figure to hit a lot but should be a very good glove in CF.  The Angels then traded for Vernon Wells.  This move was blasted around the SABR-blogosphere.  Wells has been an ok player, but like Hunter he can no longer man CF and has an absurd contract.  That the Angles gave up useful and cheap players (Mike Napoli) to acquire him is ridiculous.  The Angels' outfield will be good, but very expensive.  CF Mike Trout is the number 1 prospect in the game and should get a call up at some point in the season.  Though he's a totally different kind of player, he should remind Angels fans of another fishy icon, Tim Salmon.

The trade of Napoli is even more ridiculous because it leaves Jeff Mathis as the everyday catcher.  Regard:
*Click to embiggen
The Angels' front office must have been napping during math (see what I did there: Napoli, Mathis; nap, math...anyway) because a .350 wOBA is good while a .250 wOBA is really bad.  While Mathis is a better defensive player there is basically no way that his defense can make up that gap.

The rest of the infield is pretty meh.  Second baseman Howie Kendrick, Third baseman Macier Izturis and SS Erik Aybar are average players with no real upside.

The rotation is strong.  Dan Haren and Jeff Weaver are dueling aces at the top.  Haren had a bad year ERAwise but his peripheral stats remained strong while Weaver kicked it up a notch in 2010, notably increasing his strikeouts by about 2 per 9.  Ervin Santana isn't the same pitcher following his 2009 elbow injury but he came back last year to post good numbers.  Joel Pineiro pitched will last year despite missing time with injury.  Scott Kazmir is a shell of his former self and might not make the rotation.

The bullpen is solid.  Fernando Rodney is overrated but Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen are quality.

Oakland Athletics 80 - 82
Why is this team interesting?  Because you love infield defense.
1B: Daric Barton 14.2 UZR/150 in 2010: Rank = first
2B: Mark Ellis 12.7 UZR/150 in 2010: Rank=second
3B: Kevin Kouzmanoff 17.5 UZR/150 in 2010: Rank=third
SS: Cliff Pennington 8.8 UZR/150 in 2010: Rank=short 4th

You'd think with that infield the A's would stock up on ground ball pitchers.  And they do. Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson both got well over 50% ground balls last season while Gio Gonzales approached it.  Dallas "Mr Perfect"/"Stay off of my mound" Braden has been average in getting wormburners.  If Brandon McCarthy wins the 5th spot he is an extreme fly ball pitcher (career 36% GB)

None of those infielders does much with the bat, though Barton's skill set of drawing walks and not making outs is underrated.

The guys charged with driving in runs will be DH Hideki Matsui and LF Josh Willingham.  Matsui is a fine DH for the A's as his hitting has remained quite stable despite a decrease in his all around game.  Willingham has been an underrated hitter toiling for the Marlins and Nationals.  Both Coco Crisp and David DeJesus are quality defenders with underrated offensive games.

Kurt Suzuki is the catcher.  He's a guy.

If the A's fall out of contention 1B Chris Carter, OF Michael Taylor  and maybe even 2B Jemile Weeks could see some time.  Especially if Oakland moves Matsui, Willingham, DeJesus or Ellis to contenders.

As I mentioned the starting staff gets a lot of ground balls which is a good thing in general and specifically with that defense. Trevor Cahill looked outstanding last year with a 2.97 ERA, but he was definitely the beneficiary of his defense (which will continue) and luck (which may not).  Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez (get ready to go gaga for GG) are the 2 best starters.

The A's spent a lot of money on their bullpen this season but Andrew Bailey is still the best pitcher out there-unfortunately he's having some elbow problems this spring.  Brian Fuentes or Grant Balfour could step into the closer spot if necessary.   The A's still have Michael Wurtz, Brad Ziegler, Craig Breslow and even Rich Harden spitting sunflower seeds behind the OF wall.

Seattle Mariners 76 - 86
What is interesting about this team?  Felix Hernandez and Ichiro.  King Felix is probably the best pitcher in the American League and Ichiro looks for his 11th straight 200 hit season while playing outstanding RF defense and showing off his laser of a throwing arm.

We know about Ichiro.

We should know about King Felix.  He has the 2nd most innings pitched in baseball over the last 2 seasons: 488.1 (which is 1 less than Roy Halladay and 21 more than #3 CC Sabathia).  He also has the lowest ERA (2.38 certainly helped by his defense and home stadium) and most strikeouts (449).  He's just going to be 25 this season.  In comparison Hernandez has 24 career WAR going into his age 25 season.  Tim Lincecum had 2 WAR.

The drop off in talent after those 2 is significant.

CFer Franklin Guiterez is the M's next best player.  He's got a bit of power, a bit of speed, and a lot of defense.  OF/DH Milton Bradley has talent, but his...demeanor...limits his ability to stay on the field and be productive.  Jack Cust brings his walks, strikeouts and home runs north from Oakland.  Safeco doesn't play well at all to his left-handed power swing though.  But he has to hit better than the .194/.269/.340 line Mariner DH's 'produced' last year.  OF Michael Saunders struggled in a callup last season and will probably start the season in AAA.

In the infield, Chone Figgins moves back to 3B and hopes to bounce back after a miserable year with both the bat and the glove.  There's reason to think that he will.  He was a very good defensive third baseman in LA and has a good year/bad year thing going on with the bat.
*Click to embiggen
Justin Smoak came over in the Cliff Lee deal.  He struggled last year and isn't a good fit for Seattle's stadium (see Jack Cust) but he should be an upgrade over Casey Kotchman (.217/.280/.336) who played first last year.

Second base and shortstop will be manned by twin all-glove-no-bat players Jack Wilson and Brendan Ryan.   Whoever plays second will just be keeping the keystone warm for Dustin Ackley who could see some time this year.

The rotation will be rounded out by Doug Fister, Jason Vargas, the remnants of Eric Bedard and ... Fister is a young player who limits walks and gets some ground balls.  Not sure he'll ever be more than what he was last year.  Similarly Jason Vargas probably showed what he is last year-an averagish kind of pitcher.  Eric Bedard started off strong last season, but didn't make it past July.  He'll try again.  The Mariners would like prospect Michael Pineda to win the 5th starter job, but that's a question mark at this point.  He should see some time during the season though.  He should be good as well.  Soft-tosser Blake Beaven is also a possibility.

The bullpen is topped-off by David Aardsma-who's likely to be traded to a contender at the deadline.  He's not a star but he can help a team.  Brandon League's 60+% ground ball rate will play well with the M's infield.  Fire-baller Dan Cortes moves to the pen after having trouble as a minor league starter.

This team just isn't very good.  And the combination of being a poor hitting team in a run-suppressing stadium has to be hard for M's fans to watch on a day-to-day basis.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

2011 MLB Final Standings Predictions: NL CENTRAL

Cincinnati Reds 87 - 75
Why is this team interesting?  They  have one of the best young hitters in baseball in Joey Votto and they have the most exciting young non-Stephen-Strasburg arm in Aroldis Chapman.  OFers Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs are good young players as well.

That's where the excitement ends.  The rest of the lineup is solid throughout, Johnny Gomes excepted.  The starting rotation isn't flashy, but it is very deep with Johnny Cueto (looks like Cueto will start the season on the DL.  This is when a deep rotation comes in handy), Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Travis Wood.

Milwaukee Brewers 85 - 77
Why is this team interesting?  Now...THIS team IS interesting.  The Brew Crew had one of the most exciting off-seasons of any team.  They added Shawn Marcum and Zack Greinke to their rotation.  Greinke is known, Marcum less so.  Greinke isn't the 2009 Greinke that everyone knows about, but he is very very good.  Marcum missed 2009 but came back last year to post a 3.5 WAR season in the AL East.  A move to the NL Central should only help his cause.  These two are added to holdovers Yovanni Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson.  Those three would be a passable front 3 for a rotation, that they are 3rd, 4th, and 5th fiddles to Greinke and Marcum is proof that the Brewers should be able to pitch this season.

Takashi Saito won't be racking up saves like he did in LA, but he' pitching about as well.  The saves will go to John Axford who is channeling his inner, and outer, Rollie Fingers.

The Brewers aren't just a bunch of hurlers though.  They carry some lumber.  Big Prince Fielder is in the best shape of his life.  Regardless of the shape he takes you can pencil Prince in for something like a .400 OBA and .500+ SLG.  LFer Ryan Braun (not to be confused with P Ryan Braun) can be counted on to put up similar numbers.  Second baseman Rickey Weeks broke out last season with 29 home runs fueling a .368 wOBA.  He also played in a career high 160 games.  Brewer's fans will hope that Corey Hart's 2010 represents a improvement over 2008 and 2009 and not just a fluke.  3B Casey McGehee probably over performed last year but 20 home runs and a .340 wOBA in 2011 would be just fine.

That's 5 of 8 starters.  Those 5 range from good to very good.

C Jon Jucroy, CF Carlos Gomez (not to be confused with the Rockies' Car-Go (Carlos Gonzales), and SS Yunieski Betancourt range from meh to ewww.

Chicago Cubs 82 - 80
Why is this team interesting?  100 years and counting.  They better keep counting, because this isn't the year.  The Cubbies have some good players, but no great ones, and no terrible ones.  C Giovanni Soto is probably their best player.  Soto has legitimate pop and on base abilities.  Aramis Ramirez was a steady performer from 2004-2008, but injuries (2009) and ineffectiveness (2010), took tolls the last 2 seasons.  Alfonso Soriano had a resurgence last year be he's never again going to be the 40-40 man that the Cubs paid $136 million for.  CFer Marlon Byrd had an excellent season last year, but there is not much in his history to indicate that he will perform consistently at that level.  Kosuke Fukudome was supposed to be Hideki Matsui v1.5 but it hasn't worked out that way.  He's still a solid player.  Cubs fans will probably be happy to see him go though.  Young SS Starlin Castro isn't a star yet, but if he can increase his walks and stolen bases he could soon be.  First baseman Carlos Pena brings his sub .200 batting average (his ISO was an even higher .211 though) to Wrigley to replace Derrek Lee.  Jeff Baker beat out Blake DeWitt for the 2B job...if anyone cares.

The pitching staff is interesting.   First there is Carlos Zambrano.  He could do anything next
Break a bat
Meltdown on the field
Meltdown in the dugout
but on the mound we know that he's NOT going to.  He's not going to throw 200 innings of 5 WAR ball like he did in the early 2000's.  Matt Garza, acquired from the Tampa Rays, might pitch 200 innings but he's a fly ball pitcher in the 'Friendly Confines'.  Expect a few home runs.  Randy Wells might actually be the Cubs best starter.   Unless that title goes to Ryan Dempster, who is currently what Zambrano was formerly.  The 5th starer will either be Carlos Silva, Braden Looper or Andrew Cashner.  None of them provides much more than any of the others.  Chris Carpenter might get a look later in the season.

The bullpen has overused-adjective-flame-throwing Carlos Marmol as the closer.  Marmol struck out 138 batters in 78 innings last year.  Randy Wells struck out 144 in 194 innings for comparison.  He also walked 52.  Roy Halladay walked 30 in over 3 times as many innings for comparison.  The zombie of Kerry Wood returns to Chicago.  He can still strike guys out, but too many walks (and injuries) to truly be effective.  Sean Marshall and Jeff Smardzija are also good relievers.

St. Louis Cardinals 80 - 82
Why is this team interesting?  Where to begin?  The Cardinals were expected to contend for the NL Central this year after finishing 2nd to the Reds in 2010 after being expected to run away with the division.  Then they lost Adam Wainwright, and his 5-6 WAR, for the season.

Then there is the Albert Pujols contract situation.  If the Cardinals aren't competitive in the division this year will they be forced to trade the best player in baseball?

But the Cards are interesting not only because of the players they won't, and might not, have but also because of some of the players that they do have.

While the Cardinals lament losing Adam Wainwright, plenty of teams would be thrilled to have Chris Carpenter at the top of their rotation.  2010 rookie Jaime Garcia will regress from the 2.70 ERA he put up last year, but is still a solid pitcher.  Reliever Kyle McClellan joins the rotation.  We'll see how he fares; I'm guessing not THAT well.  Pitching coach Dave Duncan will have more time to work his magic on Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook.

Albert Pujols, aka 'The Machine', is the most consistent performer in MLB right now.  Check out his career wOBA (which measures total offensive output).
Some people have speculated that the loss of Wainwright, and subsequent possibility of non-competitiveness in 2011 will lead to a financial situation that will make it even less likely for the Cards to re-sign Albert.

Matt Holliday is the Cardinals second best position player, he had a near 7 WAR season in 2010.   CFer Colby Rasmus and C Yadier Molina are good players as well.  After that...

Lance Berkman replaces the mediocrity that took over in RF after the Cards traded Ryan Ludwick to SD last year.  Berkman is a big hitter, though he had a down season last year, but he hasn't played OF regularly since 2007.  While he's probably no Vlad Guerrero out there,

 it could be an adventure at times.

3B David Freese looked good in the half season that he played before injury.  A .376 BABIP seems optimistic though.  Second base will be manned by Skip Shumaker, a converted outfielder who can hit-at least before last year, though struggles to defend in the infield.  The short stop figures to be former Cub Ryan Theriot.  He's been a productive player in the past, but was worthless (0 WAR) last year.

Pittsburgh Pirates 70 - 92
Why is this team interesting?  Because, believe it or not, are on their way up.  The Pirates have produced a few young players over the last couple of seasons.  Most people know about CFer Andrew McCutchen, who could possibly become a full-fledged star this season.  He gets on base, he runs, he has power, the only question is his defense; and it is a question and not a problem.    Hopefully Pittsburgh will lock McCutchen up long-term here pretty soon.  Third baseman Pedro Alvarez didn't exactly burt upon the scene last season but he was productive.  The power is legit.  The defense and ability to make contact with pitches need to improve.  LFer Jose Tabata should be a better player than Xavier Nady (whom he was traded for) starting last season and continuing into perpetuity.  He's not a start, but he is a major league quality talent-which is the bar the Pirates first need to clear.  The same can be said of 2B Neil Walker.

OF/1B Garrett Jones is another young Pirate but despite his 21 home run-in-half-a-season 2009, he's really not that good of a player.

The Pirates also added 1B Lyle Overbay and C Chris Snyder.  Overbay is an underrated player and a good get for the Pirates who might soon decide that Alvarez is a 1B and not a 3B.

The pitching isn't as good as the hitting in Pittsburgh.  The Pirates stole James McDonald from the Dodgers in the Octavio Dotel trade.  McDonald isn't any kind of ace but he belongs on a major league roster, and remember-THAT is an improvement over recent Pirates clubs.  Paul Maholm has been a quality starter for the Pirates for a while.  180-200 innings with a 4.00 ERA is reasonable to expect, though this 3-year trend is worrisome.  The rest of the guys in the rotation, Correia, Ohlendorf and Olsen, aren't really guys that you want starting the season in your rotation-though Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke and maybe Brian Morris should get shots later in the season.

Houston Astros 69 - 93
Why is this team interesting?  Honestly, they aren't.  From top to bottom, this is the worst team in baseball.  And from 'top to bottom' I mean they are the worst team in baseball each step of the way.  It's a tossup between the Astros and the Royals for who will field the worst major league team this year.  I give the Royals a slight advantage because of the possibilities that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas bring.  Since the Astros have the worst minor league system in baseball they have no similar players in waiting. This goes directly to GM Ed Wade who's done nothing to improve the team since taking over in 2007.

The Astros aren't completely devoid of talent.  OFers Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn are solid players, but not terribly exciting-unless you really like Bourn's blazing speed.  Pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers are both better than average but neither figures to get much better than they showed last year.

Unfortunately for the Astros their #1 prospect, C Jason Castro:
A) figures to be more solid than star
B) had knee surgery and will likely miss the season.

The Astros have a couple of young players at the corner infield spots; 3B Chris Johnson and 1B Brett Wallace.   Johnson put up good numbers in half a season last year but his BABIP was .387 and he struck out about 7 times as often as he walked-doesn't bode well for extended success.  Wallace has been traded 3 times in the last 2 seasons; probably because once teams get a look at him up close they see that he can't hit at the big league level.

It's going to be a long time before the Astros are good again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The World is Flat

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman was an interesting book.  I recommend that you check it out from the library next time you happen in.

I'd write about it to try and entice you to read it, but I'm sleepy and want to go to bed.

I just mention the book because I wanted to post this pic from my blog's statistics page

Seems that three poor souls, two from India and one from China google-stumbled upon my page while looking for information about the upcoming MLB season.

Monday, March 21, 2011

2011 MLB Final Standings Predictions: AL CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox 83 - 79
Why is this team interesting?  Ozzie Guillen.  Also, the middle of the order is pretty scary.  Adam DunnPaul KonerkoCarlos Quentin and Alex Rios combined for 124 home runs last year, and Quentin wasn't even very good.  Unfortunately, the guys batting in front of them-Juan Pierre and Gordon Beckham, aren't really good at getting on base.  

Otherwise this could be a violent White Sox offense.  

Third base for Chicago should be interesting.  Last year 969 year old Methuselah 43 year old shortstop Omar Vizquel was the 'primary' third baseman.  This year human vacuum cleaner Brent Morel should get the bulk of the time.  But can he hit?  

The starting staff is very solid: Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks should be locks for 3+ WAR each.  Edwin Jackson has really turned himself around the last 2 seasons and could be as good as any of them.  Comebacking Jake Peavey and Up-And-Coming Chris Sale could give the White Sox 5 well above average starters.  

In the bullpen JJ Putz and Bobby Jenks have moved on allowing Matt Thornton to get some saves and the opportunity to push himself into the consciousness of baseball fans when they are discussing best relievers in the game.  

Minnesota Twins 82 - 80

Why is this team interesting?  Defending division champions?  The repeated losses to the Yankees?  The three-team race in the AL Central?  Their small market, home-grown-player philosophy?

Not really.  A little bit.  Definitely.  That's subjective.

The reason I think this team is interesting are the questions.  What's going to happen with Justin Morneau this season after his concussion?  I'm projecting him for a fairly complete comeback.  But, if he doesn't that'll knock 2 - 3 wins off of the Twins total, making a close division that much closer.   There's also Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka whom is replacing Orlando Hudson's 3 WAR last season.  There is Danny Valencia who came on like gang-busters after his call up last season.  Is he really that good?  Will the real Delmon Young please stand up?  Was 2010 Jim Thome's last gasp?

Can Francisco Liriano do it in 2011 or do we have to wait 3 another years?  Has the league figured out Nick Blackburn and why do the Twins think he's better than both Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker?  Is Brain Duensing a better starter than reliever?  Why do the Twins think that HE'S better than Slowey and Baker?  How will Joe Nathan perform after missing 2010?

I think the Twins are the most talented team, top to bottom, in the division.  They have more questions than the White Sox and Tigers though, making them more of a make or break team.  I'm figuring for more makes than breaks.

How can I discuss the Twins without discussing Joe Mauer, the best player in the division?  I can't.

There he is, tied with Hanley Ramirez for the 4th most WAR in baseball over the last 3 years.

Detroit Tigers 81 - 81
Why is this team interesting?  The Tigers have the more exciting and explosive players out of the three contenders in the AL Central.  Miguel Cabrera does nothing but mash the ball, well, he does do something other than mash the ball.  There is Justin Verlander and Max Sherzer who struck out 403 batters combined last season-the most of any duo in the American League.  There is a bullpen anchored by Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit.

Austin Jackson was exciting for Tigers fans last year, but what can we expect from him in 2011?  Ryan Rayburn looks to have finally showed the Tigers that he's a full time player, but will another Brennan Boesch hot streak put Rayburn back on the back burner?

The Tigers can win the division if: Phil Coke makes it as a major league starter.  Brad Penny can make it through the entire season as a starter.    Victor Martinez plays more catcher than DH.  A few of Alex Avila, LeAnne Will Rhymes, Joel Peralta, Magglio Ordonez and Rick Porcello put together a better than average season.

Cleveland Indians 70 - 92
What is interesting about this team?  Catcher Carlos Santana and OFer Shin-Soo Choo are two of the best players in the league that no one has heard about.

Santana (acquired from the LA Dodgers for Casey Blake.) put up 2 WAR in about a third of a season last year.  He hit .260 with 6 home runs in 150 at bats.  That'd give him 18 home runs in a full (for a catcher) season.  He walked more than he struck out (37 BB to 29 K).

Choo has 11 WAR over the last 2 seasons.  More than any OFer not named Carl Crawford or Matt Holliday.  That means it includes OFers named: Ichiro, Werth, Hamilton, Braun, etc...

Fausto Carmona had a decent year last year but last year was about the extent of his talent.  There's no real room for him to improve.  Justin Masterson is a good pitcher as well.  If he could only face right-handed batters he'd be an excellent pitcher:
vs R: 8.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 2.96 FIP
But pretty bad vs left-handed pitchers:
vs L: 5.4 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 4.78 FIP
The rest of the starters (Mitch Talbot, Carlos Carrasco, and Josh Tomlin) are young and have some skills, but none seem to be on the verge of anything special.

The rest of the team is... ... ... ...there's really nothing there.  Matt LaPorta was a highly regarded prospect when he was included in the CC Sabathia trade, but he hasn't done much in Cleveland.  Other than that the rest of the Indians roster should be on the bench or in AAA.

Kansas City Royals 67 - 95
What is interesting about this team?

April: Nothing to see here
May: Nothing to see here
June: that Mostakas and Hosmer?  No?  Nothing
July: Have they called up Mostakas and Hosmer yet?
Now we have something!!!

The Royals return one position player, Billy Butler, who rated as average from last year so an influx of talent is a must.   There is help on the way. First baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas aren't the best 2 members of the Royals' impressive farm system but they should be the first to arrive.  Both are left-handed sluggers who figure to get called up sometime during the season.  Both represent Hope to a Royals fan base who haven't had much to hope for in some time.

CFer Lorenzo Cain and SS Alcides Escobar, acquired in the Greinke deal, also figure to be two of the Royals better players-neither will be expected to hit much but both are considered plus defensive players.

LF/3B/former-can't-miss-prospect Alex Gordon figures to get one more shot in KC to make something happen.  Unfortunately-for the Royals, Royals fans, and Gordon-Gordon has been pretty good.  He was a 2+ WAR player in both 2007 and 2008 before the Royals gave up on him and sent him to the minors in 2009.  He's been up and down since then and hasn't been the same player.

There is also 1B/DH Kila Ka'aihue who deserves (has deserved for a while; while the Royals went with nothing happeners like Mike Jacobs) a shot to try out his patient-with-a-bit-of-power ways before he loses his positions to the combination of Butler and Hosmer.

Everyone else who figures to get penciled into the batting order should pretty much be thanking their lucky stars that they are on Royals where they can cash a major league check instead of the AAA variety that they would get on any other team.

Joakim Soria is the Royals' best pitcher.  He's also the closer.  When you're going to win 60 some games, having a great closer is not the most efficient use of resources.

The starting rotation is a mess.  Former #1 pick Luke Hochever isn't a bad pitcher but he hasn't lived up to #1 pick billing.  Jeff Francis comes over from Colorado after missing 2009 with injury.  Despite a 5 ERA in 2010 he pitched well (5.8 K/9, 2 BB/9, 3.88 FIP) and could be a steal for the $2 million the Royals are paying him this year.  Vin Mazarro was traded for the Royals' best player (David DeJesus) last season.  Unfortunately, Mazarro isn't good-neither is anyone else who figures to make many starts for the Royals this year.

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